Peace be with you
By Hyon O’Brien
One of the rituals that some churches include in their Sunday worship is the ``Sign of Peace.” At this time the whole congregation exchanges greetings by saying ``peace be with you” while shaking hands or embracing.
This greeting custom apparently originated with St. Augustine in the 4th century. When I first was exposed to this practice, I felt awkward. Koreans aren’t big on physical contact. But over time, I have grown to accept it as a meaningful ritual, and to understand why St. Augustine suggested it. Even though it seems somewhat contrived, the repetition of the custom manages to drive home the message of peace.
In George Frideric Handel (1685-1759)’s ``Messiah,” an oratorio composed in only 24 days during the summer of 1741, the libretto is entirely drawn from the Bible. It presents Christ as the Messiah covering the birth, miracles, crucifixion, resurrection and ascension of Jesus and the end times with the Christ’s final victory over death and sin. It has become common practice since Handel’s death to perform the Messiah during Advent, the period preceding the Christmas season, in churches and concert halls.
For me the most unforgettable part of this oratorio is where words from Isaiah 9:6 are sung. ``For unto us a child is born, to us a son is given, and the government will be on his shoulders. And he will be called Wonderful Counselor, the Mighty God, the Everlasting Father, the Prince of Peace.” Each time I listen to this, I am struck by the words ``Prince of Peace” and it always does something to my heart.
I look around and see that the wars and disputes that have been with human history for thousands of years still continue. The recent shelling of Yeonpyeong Island by North Korea and the ensuing tension on the Korean Peninsula, the continuing strife in Iraq, Afghanistan, and the Middle East, and even the recent (so far thankfully bloodless) territorial incident between Costa Rica and Nicaragua are some examples of human aggression and inability to live at peace with one another.
What William Ewart Gladstone (1809-1898), the British Liberal statesman, said might be the accurate analysis of why we live without peace. ``We look forward to the time when the ‘power of love’ will replace the ‘love of power’. Then will our world know the blessings of peace.” What is this evil thing called power? Once a person has this power in his possession, why does he come under its grip and have such difficulty letting go? What has to happen for the hunger for power of human beings to be loosened and no longer threaten all things peaceful? Will Kim Jong-il ever let go of the ``love of power” and wake up to the notion of ``common good” that was the original basis for socialism? Why is it that human history is so totally impacted by this hunger to control, rule and grab?
Maybe Mother Teresa has a point. ``If we have no peace, it is because we have forgotten that we belong to each other.” We have forgotten that we are all humankind inhabiting this globe for a season and that we homo sapiens need each other’s good will and striving for peace in order to sustain, survive and live harmoniously on the same planet.
Timothy Ferriss, the author of a new best-seller called ``The 4-Hour Body,” has some good advice: To lose weight, change something in your behavior in a small but meaningful way and stick to it. Not an earth-shattering massive work-out and exercise that gets started and dropped in a few days, but a small but attainable action, such as being aware of one’s eating habits and tracking them.
To illustrate, he tells of an overweight young man who managed to shed some pounds without any exercise but merely by noticing what he was putting into his mouth. Evidently the mere act of observing himself brought a new awareness of his eating pattern and a small but significant change that helped reduce his unhealthy food intake.
This got me thinking about the peace that we sorely need among the global family. Can all of us 6.6 billion inhabitants of this earth promise to observe our behavior and keep tracking it? Can we ask ourselves questions to check the inner landscape of our mind? Are we hostile in our words and thoughts? Do we tend to blame others for our own misery? Are we self-focused, insisting only on our own gain, forgetting the big picture of the global family and its needs? Is our country dangerously steeped in nationalism at the expense of world peace?
Imagine every day all of us being mindful of our peace breaking tendencies and keep tracking them till the day when all of us become peace-makers! Then we can genuinely wish to others ``peace be with you.”
Hyon O'Brien is a former reference librarian in the United States. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.